Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival 2020 was scheduled to launch at the end of this month. But like so many events so far this year, Hot Docs was postponed. Today the folks at Hot Docs released the full slate of titles that were scheduled to screen between April 30th – May 10th .
This year’s festival was set to feature “226 films and 12 interdisciplinary projects from 63 countries in 18 programs, with 51 percent of the directors in the Festival program being women.” This announcement was initially scheduled to drop on March 24th, but the news was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As someone who has seen a few of the titles on the list, I will say that Hot Doc’s announcement is bittersweet. It’s great to see a festival showcase such fantastic work from filmmakers at the top of their craft. But I’m disappointed that I won’t have a chance to discuss provocative docs like Boys State with Toronto audiences next month.
Year after year, Hot Docs showcases a host of buzzworthy titles that remain in the cultural conversation all the way into awards season. I was looking forward to seeing which standout titles emerged from Hot Docs this spring.
Here is Hot Docs’ press release:
Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is pleased to announce the full lineup of films selected for the 2020 Festival. Originally scheduled to be revealed on March 24, the announcement was delayed when this year’s Festival, slated for April 30-May 10, was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Hot Docs is continuing to investigate ways to bring the entire 2020 Festival lineup to Toronto audiences and will announce plans when they are in place. The official selection is being announced at this time to honour and celebrate the hard work of the filmmakers and to support them as they seek opportunities in these difficult times.
“Documentaries are vitally important to helping us understand the world we live in, particularly at this challenging moment in time,” said Shane Smith, director of programming for Hot Docs. “This year’s Hot Docs program features the best of global documentary storytelling from 63 countries, all of which will connect us to each other in ways that inspire, inform and illuminate.”
This year’s program was chosen from 3068 film submissions and features 226 films and 12 interdisciplinary projects from 63 countries in 18 programs, with 51 per cent of the directors in the Festival program being women.
Hot Docs 2020 Program Highlights:
This year’s Special Presentations program, sponsored by Crave, features world and international premieres, award-winners from the recent international festival circuit, works by master filmmakers and those featuring star subjects. Highlights include: the world premiere of Hong Kong Moments, which captures pro-democracy activists and armed police battling in the city’s streets; the international premiere of The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show, which showcases a revolutionary moment in television history when the Jamaican pop star took over for Johnny Carson, inviting a host of Black artists to perform on network TV for the first time; and the world premiere of Meat the Future takes audiences inside the innovative Berkeley start-up Memphis Meats as it prepares to go mainstream with its lab-grown “cultured meat” products, made without killing animals.
The Special Presentations program also includes: the international premieres of Larry Flynt for President, a gripping look at the Hustler mogul’s polarizing 1990s presidential run; A Thousand Cuts, about internationally acclaimed press-freedom fighter Maria Ressa who navigates fake news punditry and arrest warrants to chronicle Philippine President Duterte’s extrajudicial war on drugs; and the world premiere of Power Trip, which follows Property Brother Jonathan Scott across America as he advocates for renewable solar energy solutions and exposes the politics protecting fossil fuels.
In the competitive Canadian Spectrum program, notable films include the world premieres of: There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace, a look at Toronto’s gentrification told through immigrant stories affected by the closure of discount store Honest Ed’s; The Walrus and the Whistleblower, which tells a stranger-than-fiction tale of a MarineLand animal trainer turned whistleblower who sparks an online movement to end marine mammal captivity; Under the Same Sun, a skillfully balanced exploration of humanity and hatred in the South Caucasus, a region plagued by aggressive nationalist movements; and The Dawnsayer, a tragic yet uplifting story about an eccentric old man whose plans to save humanity from nuclear disaster rest in a bunker of buried school buses. The Canadian Spectrum program is sponsored by TVO.
In the competitive International Spectrum program, notable films include the world premieres of: Women of the Sun: A Chronology of Seeing, a moving profile of six housewives in an Iranian desert who film their fight for gender equality, higher incomes and personal freedom; Fadma: Even Ants Have Wings, which follows a progressive woman who instigates a village-wide cooking strike in a small Berber community in Morocco’s mountains; and The Wall of Shadows, the heartfelt story of a Nepalese Sherpa family that breaks a taboo to desperately earn money for their son’s education. International premieres in the program include: I Want You If You Dare, an unsentimental and refreshing look at a young woman with cerebral palsy who longs for independence and her first sexual experience; A Colombian Family, which follows an estranged mother and daughter seeking reconciliation against the backdrop of the country’s fraught peace treaty; and All That I Am, a sensitive and patient examination of sexual abuse’s aftermath as told through one survivor’s story. The International Spectrum program is supported by the Donner Canadian Foundation.
In the World Showcase program, notable films include the world premieres of: Mein Vietnam, about a family whose virtual connection to their old lives in Vietnam has prevented them from assimilating into the German community where they’ve lived for 30 years; and A Loss of Something Ever Felt, which follows a woman desperately seeking for her drug-addicted brother in the streets of Bogotá. International premieres in the program include: Eyes and Arms, about an Iranian couple with disabilities who literally complete each other; Landfall, a sharp analysis of disaster capitalism that looks at the reinvention of Puerto Rico after economic and natural disasters; Father Soldier Son, which tells the story of a single father, wounded in Afghanistan, who struggles to raise his sons in rural America; and Two Gods, about a Muslim casket maker who mentors two boys facing turbulent times at home and on the streets.
The Made In Northern Ireland program includes the world premieres of: Lost Boys: Belfast’s Missing Children, a chilling doc about a criminologist who reopens a 50 year-old case about the disappearance of two boys in Belfast; Our Lyra, a beautiful portrait that illuminates the life and work of reporter Lyra McKee, who was murdered during the riots in Derry; and REFRAMING Andrew Sadek, about a murder in a quiet North Dakota town that unravels a secret plot by law enforcement to wage a war on drugs. Rounding out the program is the North American premiere of Lost Lives, which enlists some of Ireland’s best-known actors to narrate passages from the famed book Lost Lives, offering a requiem for those who died during the Northern Irish Troubles. The Made In Northern Ireland program is sponsored by Northern Ireland Screen.
The Artscapes program, which showcases creative minds, artistic pursuits and inventive filmmaking, includes the world premieres of: Love and Fury, which follows award-winning filmmaker Sterlin Harjo across America as he visits with fellow Indigenous artists; Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art, a fascinating true-crime doc about a disgraced New York City art gallery accused of selling fraudulent works; The Last Archer, an intimate portrait of Alberto Manrique, one of the Canary Islands’ most innovative artists; and You Are the Days to Come, which follows director Ronja Yu to Beijing as she seeks out the rebellious artists who inspired her in the lead up to the Tiananmen Square protests. Co-produced by actor Issa Rae, the international premiere of Dark City Beneath the Beat is an energetic journey through Baltimore’s legendary creative landscape with director TT The Artist; and the international premiere of Sanmao. The Desert Bride will disclose the life of the Chinese writer who inspired generations of young women through her fearless independence and commitment to her art.
The Nightvision program, which features future cult classics, includes: the world premiere of Once Upon a Time in Uganda, about an indie-action-flick studio in Uganda that attempts to bring its movies to the world; the international premiere of Glitch in the Matrix, a mind-bending argument about simulation theory that will have you questioning if what you see is real; Feels Good Man, which won Sundance’s U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker this year, reveals how the innocently created meme Pepe the Frog became a symbol of the alt-right; the stylized I Love You I Miss You I Hope I See You Before I Die, a sensory overload of symbols that shows the selflessness of motherhood through the life of a poor single mom in Colorado; and LEAP OF FAITH: William Friedkin On The Exorcist, which delves into the mind of the Oscar-winning director as he explains the genesis of the horror masterpiece.
The Persister program, which features female-directed films about women speaking up and being heard, includes the world premieres of: Her Mothers, about a lesbian couple trying to adopt who contend with homophobia in an increasingly radicalized Hungary; The 8th, which follows Ireland’s pro-choice movement as it appeals to people’s compassion to overturn the country’s 35-year abortion ban; Bangla Surf Girls, a touching coming-of-age story of resistance in which three teenage girls in Bangladesh join their local surf club; Lady Buds, a fascinating look at a group of women who try to break into California’s legal weed scene; and The School of Housewives, a warm-hearted feminist love letter to women’s work that takes audiences into The Reykjavík School of Housewives. The Persister program is presented in partnership with Oxfam Canada.
The Revisionaries program, which focuses a new lens on the past in order to re-imagine the future, includes the world premieres of: AKA Jane Roe, a recounting of the deathbed confession of Norma McCorvey, the real life “Jane Roe” from the landmark US abortion rights case; Socialism: An American Story, an examination of the stigmatized ideology’s history in America and its relevance today; and Love and Stuff, in which filmmaker Judith Helfand mourns the loss of her mother as she prepares to become a “new old” mom at 50. The program also features the international premiere of Zlota Street, about the Jewish landlord of an old Warsaw tenement that’s now home to a community of immigrants; and the North American premiere of Finding Sally, the remarkable story of the director’s aunt, who disappeared after joining the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party.
The To Conserve and Protect program, which showcases stories of people fighting for, or collaborating with, the planet, includes the world premieres of: First We Eat, an endearing film about a mother who challenges her family to eat only locally sourced food at their remote home 300 kilometers from the Arctic Circle; Cane Fire, which reveals how Hollywood’s cultural appropriation has negatively impacted Indigenous and working class Hawaiians; and Borealis, which takes a holistic look at Canada’s wondrous boreal forest and people’s various relationships with it. The international premiere of Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock tells the story of the standoff at the Dakota Access Pipeline from the perspective of Native youth who fight for their rights and their land; and My Octopus Teacher, a breathtaking cinematic experience that captures a free diver’s relationship with an octopus off the tip of Africa.
The Deep Dive program features three long-form documentaries told in four-part episodes. The program includes the international premieres of: Love Fraud, the story of a group of women who hire a bounty hunter to capture the serial fraudster who robbed them of their money and dignity; and City So Real, in which Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Steve James presents a fascinating and complex portrait of contemporary Chicago, set against the backdrop of its history-making 2019 mayoral election. The North American premiere of Green Blood takes us inside a consortium of international journalists who have vowed to continue the work of their colleagues, who have been killed or threatened with violence after exposing the crimes committed by mining behemoths.
The Markers program features experimental films that take bold liberties with the documentary form. Named in tribute to revolutionary filmmaker Chris Marker, the program includes the North American premieres of: Bile, a fascinating essay that offers a philosophical reflection on humankind’s view of illnesses; Judy Versus Capitalism, a deeply personal and visually experimental biography of second-wave feminist, radical activist and journalist Judy Rebick; Panquiaco, a doc-fiction hybrid that follows an Indigenous man struggling to identify with his roots after returning to his home in Panama; and If It Were Love, which blurs the lines between real life and theatre as it follows 15 young dancers touring the world with a piece about the ‘90s rave scene.
The Changing Face of Europe program includes: the world premiere of Dead Souls’ Vacation, about the struggles and dreams of a once popular Georgian bassist who now lives with his mother in a small studio apartment; and the international premieres of Reunited, which shows us the emotional reunion of a Syrian family that was separated after fleeing the war-torn country; Two Roads, which goes on tour with The Tap Tap, a popular Czech orchestra made up of people with physical disabilities who party like rock stars; and Res Creata – Humans and Other Animals, an award-winning visual essay that showcases the rituals and places where natural and human commonality still exists. The program also features the North American premieres of Lessons of Love, which tells the story of a free-spirited Polish woman who rediscovers friendship and love after escaping an abusive marriage; and Immortal, an impressionistic essay that observes life in a small Russian industrial city while uncovering the subtle mechanisms of indoctrination. The Changing Face of Europe program is presented in partnership with European Film Promotion (EFP).
This year’s DocX program, an interdisciplinary section of the Festival celebrating documentary work that lives outside of the traditional format, features virtual reality projects, including: the international premiere of ecosphere, a series of episodic encounters that transport people to awe-inspiring ecosystems across the world; the Canadian premiere of Rebuilding Notre Dame, which takes viewers inside the famed cathedral before and after the devastating 2019 fire; the North American premiere of the Fragments of Jerusalem, which immerses you in the vibrant streets and markets of the Holy City; and the Canadian premiere of Daughters of Chibok, which follows the story of a mother whose daughter was among the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram fin Nigeria.
This year’s Redux program, a retrospective showcase of documentaries that deserve another outing on the big screen, features films surrounding themes of revolution, including the 1969 film You Are on Indian Land, 2010’s An African Election, and 2011’s The Boxing Girls of Kabul, an award-winning film by Ariel Nasr, whose film The Forbidden Reel is part of this year’s Artscapes program; and filmmaker Jocelyne Saab’s three short films Beirut, My City; Beirut, Never Again; and Children of War.
The Festival’s Focus On program, supported by K.M. Hunter Charitable Foundation, features the work of Canadian filmmaker Raymonde Provencher, and Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award Retrospective honours the timeless work of American documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson.